Practice top performers - Friday

The pads came on and the big skill players got a chance to shine. Two players who will be counted on to step up, stepped up.

Day five was the first day in full pads for the USC Trojans, and it was the first day for the big skill players to show off their ability that had been hindered by the lack of hitting early on in fall camp.

It’s always tough to get a gauge on linebackers and running backs until they’re allowed to hit and be hit. True to form, the linebackers who had been forced to pull off contact the first week of practice looked like a bunch of crazed dogs when they were finally allowed to put their shoulder into someone.

One drill in particular is a tackling drill, but it’s just as much as toughness drill. An offensive player and a defensive player line up about two yards from each other, the offensive player picks up the ball and tries to make a goal line behind the defensive player.

It’s a one on one test of will, strength, and for lack of a better word, manhood.

As always when watching internal practice, one has to gauge what is happening knowing it’s happening against another member of the same team. Is the defensive end unblockable or is the offensive tackle just not blocking anyone? Is the receiver that good, or is the defender not covering?

I don’t think that the linebackers at USC aren’t capable of bringing down a tight end in short spaces, so knowing the depth concerns at tight end this year, it was encouraging to see Chris Wilson and Bryce Dixon running roughshod over the linebackers.

That’s not to say the linebackers had no say in who won the drill. Hayes Pullard slammed his man to the ground several times in what could be described as contempt.

But the story of the one on ones was two tight ends needing to make an impact for the Trojans this fall. Wilson quietly ran through several men on the way to his win, and Dixon got three straight reps each one pumping up the energy at practice a little more as more players and coaches gathered around.

It wasn’t until one of the final reps of the day that junior linebacker Anthony Sarao finally restored some order and put Dixon on the ground.

Wilson also had an impressive catch and run on a long pass across the middle from Cody Kessler. The defensive backs didn’t have any more luck bringing Wilson down than the linebackers did, and Wilson rumbled his way into the endzone for a touchdown.

On the outside starters Jabari Ruffin and Scott Felix (Starr) have looked great in drills, and both were active and engaged when the pads came on yesterday. Felix is doing a good job off the edge rushing the passer, and Ruffin has done well closing down the run game from the tackle to the sideline.

Junior cornerback Kevon Seymour was back on the field on Friday, and he immediately looked like USC’s best cornerback. He has size, quickness, flexibility, and instincts that aren’t matched by anyone in the Trojan secondary. Josh Shaw is bigger and stronger, but he’s more acclimated for a jam and release, than a turn and run or backpedal and break. Adoree Jackson has looked terrific, but he’s still a freshman, and lacks Seymour’s size, and Chris Hawkins appear to have the quickness that Seymour has.

Seymour may end up being as irreplaceable to the defense as Nelson Agholor is to the offense.

Speaking of Agholor, it’s a relatively young group of receivers that the Trojans will field this year, and there is no doubt who the leader of this group is. Agholor has been the standout on the field. He’s the first option on offense in the passing game no matter who has been quarterback. But he was also on the field before practice holding court with his teammates as he holding a players only drill showing his teammates ways to beat a jam at the line of scrimmage. He had the full attention of his teammates, all before any of the coaches made it to practice.

The leadership dynamic at receiver involving Agholor is interesting, but another interesting development at camp and how it affects team chemistry is the dynamic play and attention that true freshman Adoree Jackson is getting early in camp.

Jackson has been one of the most talked about players at practice during the first week. He’s taking reps at cornerback, receiver, punt return and kick return. And he seems to be fitting in with his teammates wonderfully, even those who have been there several years who Jackson is for the most part already overshadowing. He’s often seen laughing and joking around with his teammates during breaks and generally playing the game with a smile on his face without rankling others.

Part of the good chemistry can be attributed to the leadership from the top down. New Head Coach Steve Sarkisian has installed an atmosphere that is up tempo and fun, yet still structured. Part can be attributed to the leadership of Agholor and the personality of Jackson himself.

But one factor I can’t help but think of is the importance of recruiting locally. Jackson comes from one of Southern California’s most respected programs in Serra, a program that has been very good to the Trojans of late including Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Jackson has been around the program and many of his teammates for years, before college and now as teammates.

Recruiting locally is the lifeblood of most powerful programs and as I’m watching Jackson I can’t help but wonder if a player from Texas or Ohio would be fitting in as well or as quickly. Maybe… maybe not…

Jackson is going to add depth and playmaking ability to three aspects of the Trojan team including the defensive secondary. Seymour is incredibly valuable for that unit, but two of the newcomers made strides, already showing improvement early on in their careers. Johnathan Lockett struggled earlier in the week, but as he was allowed to be more physical, he started making more plays including a nice pass break up against Chris Wilson who was split wide. Wilson has upawards of six inches and 70 pounds on Lockett.

Safety John Plattenburg also stepped up and made some plays both against the pass and the run. Plattenburg is considerably more physical than his 185 pounds might suggest.

The quarterback play has followed the same script that we’ve seen the last week. Kessler separates himself during live drills as his decision making and delivery is head and shoulders above his counterparts at quarterback.

Kessler showed again his ability to take a broken play and find an outlet receiver, while Browne struggled once he got past his initial read including an interception for a touchdown to another Camp standout sophomore linebacker Quinton Powell. Jalen Greene is hot and cold on his throws, but his ability to run the ball is far superior to anyone else on the team. Greene definitely brings a different dimension when he’s on the field.

One of the more impressive plays on the day was a simple off tackle run that was bounced right and run down hill for a nice gain up the right sideline. What was interesting about that play? It was run by fullback Soma Vainuku, who is listed at 270 pounds. If he ever gets into the secondary of a defense, there’s going to be a lot of defensive backs diving to the ground trying to make it look like they’re making a tackle, but in reality, saving themselves the collision.

There is more going on in a three hour practice that fits in any one report, so please be sure to check out the message board to ask any specific questions!

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